Camp True Colors gives LGBTQ+ teens a place to be themselves

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09/10/2021

Camp True Colors, at a woodsy, lakeside retreat just north of Hinckley, Minn., is summer camp with all the trappings. There’s canoeing and archery and tie-dyeing and a giant water trampoline. There are bunks in the cabins and cookouts over campfires — and, some believe, a friendly ghost inhabiting the bathroom, who campers contact via a homemade Ouija board. There is also an abundance of rainbows: on socks and masks and shirts. And painted on the wooden name tags campers wear to share their pronouns. Attendees describe Camp True Colors in otherworldly terms, as if they’ve found the proverbial end of the rainbow: “like heaven on Earth” and “like a paradise.” Evan McNiff, 16, a veteran camper attending his fifth session, keeps coming back to his “happy place,” he said, “because life is really hard sometimes — especially being a queer kid.” Camp True Colors, run by the Minnesota-based nonprofit One Heartland, is one of the country’s few camps for LGBTQ+ youth. Camper Syd Anderson, 14, of Edina, played a ukulele before dinner. In a world that can often be misunderstanding of, if not outright hostile to, people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities, campers say True Colors makes them feel not just accepted, but celebrated for who they are. Though public support for LGBTQ+ issues has increased in recent decades, social biases still contribute to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. Feeling like you always have to tiptoe around or explain your identity, or being bullied or dismissed by those who won’t accept you, can take a toll on mental health.

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